Protecting watersheds and your fertility dollars

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Water quality was once an issue isolated to a few individual watersheds and seasonal outbreaks of algal blooms in a handful of places. Today, it is a concern being raised from coast to coast, from the Midwest to the Mississippi River, from Oregon to Florida and from Ohio to Louisiana. 

watershed nutrient efficiency

Nutrient loss hits the bottom line first

Lakes, river basins and municipal water supplies are all impacted by nutrients and chemicals finding their way in, and we are all impacted by their ultimate imbalance on some level. A number of sources cause the issue, but we can’t deny that nutrient runoff happens. And if it does happen on our farm fields, doesn’t that mean that the valuable nutrients we're putting down aren’t getting into the crop as we intended?

How can we manage nutrients and reducing their loss or runoff to not only protect our waterways, but also to ensure that we aren’t watching our fertilizer budget wash away? If nitrogen and phosphorus are showing up down river, doesn’t that mean that some of the inputs we paid for aren’t making it into plants?

Efficiency comes in many forms

Here are four scalable options that can be adopted to better protect local watersheds and your fertility investment:

  • Cover crops: Cover crops, such as clover and vetch, help with nitrogen (N) fixation and can immobilize N that would have otherwise been removed from the field at harvest. Leguminous cover crops can convert atmospheric N, making it more available for the next crop as the cover crop decays. They also help mitigate loss by taking up and using N that would otherwise have been lost to leaching.
  • Conservation tillage: Leaving crop residue in the field through no-till, strip-till or other conservation tillage efforts can reduce soil erosion by as much as 60-90 percent. Reducing erosion thereby reduces runoff – and reducing runoff keeps nutrients from “running” into the watershed (and leaving your crop without them).
  • Buffers: Conservation buffers, such as riparian buffers, filter strips and grassed waterways, slow runoff and enhance filtration. If properly maintained, they can remove 50 percent or more of the nutrients and pesticides that might otherwise move into nearby waterways.


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